Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues in the Translation of Genomics Into Health Care


Dr. Laurie Badzek, WVU School of Nursing, PO Box 9600, 1 Medical Center Dr., Morgantown, WV 26506-9600. E-mail:


Purpose: The rapid continuous feed of new information from scientific discoveries related to the human genome makes translation and incorporation of information into the clinical setting difficult and creates ethical, legal, and social challenges for providers. This article overviews some of the legal and ethical foundations that guide our response to current complex issues in health care associated with the impact of scientific discoveries related to the human genome.

Organizing Construct: Overlapping ethical, legal, and social implications impact nurses and other healthcare professionals as they seek to identify and translate into practice important information related to new genomic scientific knowledge.

Methods: Ethical and legal foundations such as professional codes, human dignity, and human rights provide the framework for understanding highly complex genomic issues. Ethical, legal, and social concerns of the health provider in the translation of genomic knowledge into practice including minimizing harms, maximizing benefits, transparency, confidentiality, and informed consent are described. Additionally, nursing professional competencies related to ethical, legal, and social issues in the translation of genomics into health care are discussed.

Conclusions: Ethical, legal, and social considerations in new genomic discovery necessitate that healthcare professionals have knowledge and competence to respond to complex genomic issues and provide appropriate information and care to patients, families, and communities.

Clinical Relevance: Understanding the ethical, legal, and social issues in the translation of genomic information into practice is essential to provide patients, families, and communities with competent, safe, effective health care.